Alumni Jeff Hoffmann Sells Thesis to Simon and Schuster
Jeff Hoffmann (MFA Fiction ‘19) was 7 years old when his family’s television broke. His parents, a high school teacher and a dental hygienist, opted to not replace the TV until Hoffmann and his siblings all made honor roll in the same quarter—a feat that took several years to accomplish. During that time, Hoffman became hooked on reading and has read avidly ever since.
Fast forward nearly 40 years and Hoffmann had a successful career in technology helping run several small consulting firms in Chicagoland. But something was missing. Hoffmann always wanted to write a novel and in 2017 at the age of 48, he quit his job and enrolled at Columbia College Chicago full-time. Upon graduation, Hoffmann sold his thesis to Simon and Schuster. His first novel, “Other People’s Children” will be published in 2021.
“My love of books fueled my desire to write one. I never understood the advice that you should read a lot if you want to write. That seems backwards. It seems to me that you shouldn’t try to write unless you can’t help reading.”
Here, Hoffmann discusses how his experience at Columbia helped him publish his first novel and his advice for aspiring writers.
Can you share a brief synopsis of the book?
A couple in Elmhurst adopts a baby from a birth mother in Morris, IL. After they have the baby home for four days, the birthmother reclaims the baby. Instead of returning the baby, the adoptive parents disappear, and everyone involved struggles with their own expectations as they search for what’s right.
When will the book be published?
Spring or early summer of 2021.
What inspired you to write this book, is this topic personal for you?
For me, the book is about the expectations that we all carry into our adult lives, the inevitable disconnect between those expectations and what life hands us, and the pain caused by that disconnect. These themes are deeply personal for me. When my daughter was twelve she began to struggle mightily. When she was thirteen, she could no longer live at home, and our family was shattered by that reality. She’s seventeen now and doing much better. She comes home every weekend, and we’re all working towards getting her back home for good. I processed that loss and the related pain while I wrote this book.
How did your experience at Columbia help you write and finish your book? Are there any Columbia faculty that helped you throughout the writing process? If so, how?
Columbia helped me enormously. If I tried this on my own, I might have published a novel eventually, but it would have taken many years longer. Don DeGrazia helped me birth this story (and many others). Joe Meno helped me grow it into a novel. Patty McNair taught me to describe a place vividly. Garnett Kilberg-Cohen urged me to develop the characters more fully and write shorter sentences. Alexis Pride taught me to imagine and then show the character’s bodies on the page. And if any poetry snuck into my prose, I blame that on C.M. Burroughs.
Why did you decide to get a MFA in Fiction from Columbia?
I wanted to write a novel. I applied to one other school. After I was accepted to both, I read the published work of the professors in both programs. When I read the work by Columbia’s faculty, my choice became obvious.
Would you advise a prospective student (in your field) to attend Columbia College, and if so, why?
If you want to learn to create art from practicing artists, Columbia College is an excellent place to learn your craft.
What advice do you have for current students?
I have teenage children, so I’ve learned the futility of sharing advice. Instead, I will share my own experience. When I decided to attend Columbia College, I made it very clear in my own mind what I wanted to accomplish during that time. I wanted to write a novel and get it published. I aligned every class and every word I wrote toward that goal. At my age, I knew that the time that I had set aside was limited and precious. So, I wrote. A lot.
Is there anything else you’d like for us to include?
My Twitter handle: @JeffRHoffmann. My website: jeffhoffmannwrites.com.